Does aerial baiting for controlling feral cats in a heterogeneous landscape confer benefits to a threatened native meso-predator?
Introduced mammalian predators can have devastating impacts on recipient ecosystems and disrupt native predator–prey relationships. Feral cats (Felis catus) have been implicated in the decline and extinction of many Australian native species and developing effective and affordable methods to control them is a national priority. While there has been considerable progress in the lethal control of feral cats, effective management at landscape scales has proved challenging. Justification of the allocation of resources to feral cat control programs requires demonstration of the conservation benefit baiting provides to native species susceptible to cat predation. Here, we examined the effectiveness of a landscape-scale Eradicat® baiting program to protect threatened northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) from feral cat predation in a heterogeneous rocky landscape in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. We used camera traps and GPS collars fitted to feral cats to monitor changes in activity patterns of feral cats and northern quolls at a baited treatment site and unbaited reference site over four years. Feral cat populations appeared to be naturally sparse in our study area, and camera trap monitoring showed no significant effect of baiting on cat detections. However, mortality rates of collared feral cats ranged from 18–33% after baiting, indicating that the program was reducing cat numbers. Our study demonstrated that feral cat baiting had a positive effect on northern quoll populations, with evidence of range expansion at the treatment site. We suggest that the rugged rocky habitat preferred by northern quolls in the Pilbara buffered them to some extent from feral cat predation, and baiting was sufficient to demonstrate a positive effect in this relatively short-term project. A more strategic approach to feral cat management is likely to be required in the longer-term to maximise the efficacy of control programs and thereby improve the conservation outlook for susceptible threatened fauna.
Feral cats (Felis catus) occur throughout central Australia. In this study, we analysed the stomach contents of 390 feral cats collected between 1990 and 1994 from the southern half of the Northern Territory. Cats fed on a wide variety of invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals, including animals up to their own body mass in size. Mammals were the most important prey but reptiles were regularly eaten in summer and birds were important in winter. Invertebrates were present in the diet in all seasons. Carrion appeared in stomach samples during dry winters only and this has implications for future control of feral cats.
Context Effective feral-cat (Felis silvestris catus) management requires a sound understanding of the ways cats use their environment. Key characteristics of landscape use by cats vary widely among different regions and different conditions. Aims The present study aimed to describe the most important characteristics of landscape use by feral cats on a large, human-populated island, and to use this information to guide the development of feral-cat management programs. Methods We used GPS tracking collars to record the movements of 13 feral cats at two sites on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, for between 20 and 106 days. We described home-range extents by using local convex hulls, and derived management suggestions from examination of home-range and movement data. Key results Median feral-cat home range was 5.11 km2, and this did not differ between sexes or sites. Cats at a fragmented pastoral site tended to favour woody vegetation over open paddocks, but habitat preferences were less clear at a bushland site. Cats that preferentially used treelines at the pastoral site were almost twice as likely to be recorded close to a tree-line junction as expected. Conclusions Control programs for feral cats on Kangaroo Island should deploy control devices at a density no less than 1.7 devices km–2. Spatial coverage should be as large as practicable or repeated frequently. Infrequent programs covering small areas can be expected only to provide short-term reductions in cat abundance. Implications The information gained from the present study will contribute to the development of strategic sustained management plans for feral cats on Kangaroo Island. The principles from which we inferred management guidelines are applicable to other regions and species.
Feral cat Felis catus home range in a Hawaiian montane wet forest and their diet in three habitats - montane wet forest, subalpine dry forest, and lowland dry forest ? were determined to provide baseline ecological data and to assess potential impacts to native terrestrial fauna. Seven cats (three males and four females) were captured in 624 trap nights. Mean weight of adult cats was 2.85 � 0.27 (SE) kg for males and 1.87 � 0.03 kg for females. Mean diurnal home range using the adaptive kernel method was 5.74 � 2.73 km2 for three males and 2.23 � 0.44 km2 for two females. Daytime locations were always within the montane wet forest with the borders on one or more sides of the home ranges of all cats defined by open grassland pastures. Rodents comprised the majority of the cat diets in all three habitats, with the frequencies of occurrence between 0.88 and 0.91. Bird remains were a regular component of the diet of cats, with montane wet forest having the highest frequency of occurrence (0.68), followed by subalpine dry forest (0.53). and lowland dry forest (0.21).
246 feral cats were shot on Macquarie Island, Australia, between Dec. 1976 and Feb. 1981. The sex ratio ( males : females ) was 1:0.8. The percentages of animals with tabby, orange and black coats were 74, 26 and 2 resp. [sic]. Of the 64 orange cats, 56 were males . The breeding season was Oct.-Mar., with a peak in Nov.-Dec. The number of embryos in the 14 pregnant females averaged 4.7 (range = 1-9). The size of the 23 litters that were observed averaged 3 (range = 1-8). Kitten survival to 6 months of age was estimated to be <43%.
Evaluation of risks for two native mammal species from feral cat baiting in monsoonal tropical northern Australia
Context Feral cats are a significant threat to native wildlife and broad-scale control is required to reduce their impacts. Two toxic baits developed for feral cats, Curiosity® and Hisstory®, have been designed to reduce the risk of baiting to certain non-target species. These baits involve encapsulating the toxin within a hard-shelled delivery vehicle (HSDV) and placing it within a meat attractant. Native animals that chew their food more thoroughly are predicted to avoid poisoning by eating around the HSDV. This prediction has not been tested on wild native mammals in the monsoonal wet–dry tropics of the Northern Territory. Aim The aim of this research was to determine whether northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) and northern brown bandicoots (Isoodon macrourus) would take feral cat baits and ingest the HSDV under natural conditions on Groote Eylandt. Methods We hand-deployed 120 non-toxic baits with a HSDV that contained a biomarker, Rhodamine B, which stains animal whiskers when ingested. The species responsible for bait removal was determined with camera traps, and HSDV ingestion was measured by evaluating Rhodamine B in whiskers removed from animals trapped after baiting. Key results During field trials, 95% of baits were removed within 5 days. Using camera-trap images, we identified the species responsible for taking baits on 65 occasions. All 65 confirmed takes were by native species, with northern quolls taking 42 baits and northern brown bandicoots taking 17. No quolls and only one bandicoot ingested the HSDV. Conclusion The use of the HSDV reduces the potential for quolls and bandicoots to ingest a toxin when they consume feral cat baits. However, high bait uptake by non-target species may reduce the efficacy of cat baiting in some areas. Implications The present study highlighted that in the monsoonal wet–dry tropics, encapsulated baits are likely to minimise poisoning risk to certain native species that would otherwise eat meat baits. However, further research may be required to evaluate risks to other non-target species. Given the threat to biodiversity from feral cats, we see it as critical to continue testing Hisstory® and Curiosity® in live-baiting trials in northern Australia.
Feral cats (Felis catus) have long been implicated as nest predators of endangered ‘Ua‘u (Hawaiian Petrel; Pterodroma sandwichensis) on Hawai‘i Island, but until recently, visual confirmation has been limited by available technology. ‘Ua‘u nest out of view, deep inside small cavities, on alpine lava flows. During the breeding seasons of 2007 and 2008, we monitored known burrows within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Digital infrared video cameras assisted in determining the breeding behaviour and nesting success at the most isolated of burrows. With 7 cameras, we collected a total of 819 videos and 89 still photographs of adult and nestling ‘Ua‘u at 14 burrows. Videos also confirmed the presence of rats (Rattus spp.) at 2 burrows, ‘Ôma‘o (Myadestes obscurus) at 8 burrows, and feral cats at 6 burrows. A sequence of videos showed a feral cat taking a downy ‘Ua‘u chick from its burrow, representing the first direct evidence of ‘Ua‘u depredation by feral cat in Hawai‘i. This technique provides greater understanding of feral cat behaviour in ‘Ua’u colonies, which may assist in the development of more targeted management strategies to reduce nest predation on endangered insular bird species.
AbstractThis study sought to determine whether a change in the abundance of feral cats (Felis catus) in three areas of England had occurred between the completion of a survey undertaken by the Ministry for Agriculture Fisheries and Food in 1986/7 and the turn of the century. In the event of a rabies outbreak occurring in Britain, feral cats would be one vector of the disease that would need to be controlled under the Rabies (control) Order 1974. A total of 741 “high risk sites”, found to provide appropriate conditions for feral cats, were surveyed between 1999 and 2000. The total number of feral cat colonies located within the survey areas was found to have fallen by 37% from 68 in 1986 to 43 in 1999/2000, translating to an estimated 212-247 fewer individual feral cats. Factories/trading estates and industrial premises continued to be the most common sites associated with urban feral cat colonies. However, the closing down of many traditional industries, such as mills and dockyards, and their replacement by more secure and insulated modern buildings, less amenable to feral cats finding warmth and food, had assisted the observed fall in numbers along with the effectiveness of neutering programs which are now taking place on many sites. Through this study information regarding feral cat colonies’ in urban landscapes as well colony size was gathered and fed into rabies contingency plans to help keep Britain rabies free into the future.
Increasing the target-specificity of ERADICAT® for feral cat (Felis catus) control by encapsulating a toxicant
ERADICAT®, a sausage-type meat bait, has been developed for use in managing feral cat (Felis catus) populations throughout Western Australia. However, concern about potential exposure of non-target species to bait-delivered toxicants has led to the development of a technique to more specifically target feral cats using a pellet. Research into the consumption, by cats and native animals, of toxic pellets implanted within the ERADICAT® bait has been simulated using ball bearings as a substitute pellet. Results from our work indicate that encapsulating the toxicant may pose less risk of poisoning to chuditch (Dasyurus geoffroii), woylies (Bettongia pencillata) and southern brown bandicoots (Isoodon obesulus) as they consumed significantly fewer ball bearings (P = 0.003, <0.001, <0.001) than semi-feral cats (P = 0.07). Theoretically, a toxic pellet will not reduce the effectiveness of the ERADICAT® bait as there was no significant difference between consumption of baits and the consumption of ball bearings in feral cats (P = 0.07). Therefore, baits containing a toxic pellet have the potential to be a more selective method to control feral cats.
Abstract Context. Feral cats (Felis catus) pose a significant threat to Australia’s native species and feral cat control is, therefore, an important component of threatened species management and policy. Australia’s Threatened Species Strategy articulates defined targets for feral cat control. Yet, currently, little is known about who is engaged in feral cat control in Australia, what motivates them, and at what rate they are removing feral cats from the environment. Aims. We aim to document who is engaging in feral cat control in Australia, how many cats they remove and to estimate the number of feral cats killed in a single year. Furthermore, we seek to better understand attitudes towards feral cat control in Australia. Methods. We used a mixed methods approach combining quantitative and qualitative techniques. Feral cat control data were obtained from existing data repositories and via surveys targeting relevant organisations and individuals. A bounded national estimate of the number of feral cats killed was produced by combining estimates obtained from data repositories and surveys with modelled predictions for key audience segments. Attitudes towards feral cat control were assessed by exploring qualitative responses to relevant survey questions. Key results. We received information on feral cat control from three central repositories, 134 organisations and 2618 individuals, together removing more than 35000 feral cats per year. When including projections to national populations of key groups, the estimated number of feral cats removed from the environment in the 2017–2018 financial year was 316030 (95% CI: 297742–334318). Conclusions. Individuals and organisations make a significant, and largely unrecorded, contribution to feral cat control. Among individuals, there is a strong awareness of the impact of feral cats on Australia’s biodiversity. Opposition to feral cat control focussed largely on ethical concerns and doubts about its efficacy. Implications. There is significant interest in, and commitment to, feral cat control among some groups of Australian society, beyond the traditional conservation community. Yet more information is needed about control methods and their effectiveness to better understand how these efforts are linked to threatened species outcomes.
Integrating feral cat (Felis catus) control into landscape-scale introduced predator management to improve conservation prospects for threatened fauna: a case study from the south coast of Western Australia
Abstract ContextFeral cat predation has had a significant impact on native Australian fauna in the past 200 years. In the early 2000s, population monitoring of the western ground parrot showed a dramatic decline from the pre-2000 range, with one of three meta-populations declining to very low levels and a second becoming locally extinct. We review 8 years of integrated introduced predator control, which trialled the incorporation of the feral cat bait Eradicat® into existing fox baiting programs. AimsTo test the efficacy of integrating feral cat control into an existing introduced predator control program in an adaptive management framework conducted in response to the decline of native species. The objective was to protect the remaining western ground parrot populations and other threatened fauna on the south coast of Western Australia. MethodsA landscape-scale feral cat and fox baiting program was delivered across south coast reserves that were occupied by western ground parrots in the early 2000s. Up to 500000ha of national parks and natures reserves were baited per annum. Monitoring was established to evaluate both the efficacy of landscape-scale baiting in management of feral cat populations, and the response of several native fauna species, including the western ground parrot, to an integrated introduced predator control program. Key resultsOn average, 28% of radio-collared feral cats died from Eradicat® baiting each year, over a 5-year period. The results varied from 0% to 62% between years. Changes in site occupancy by feral cats, as measured by detection on camera traps, was also variable, with significant declines detected after baiting in some years and sites. Trends in populations of native fauna, including the western ground parrot and chuditch, showed positive responses to integrated control of foxes and cats. ImplicationsLandscape-scale baiting of feral cats in ecosystems on the south coast of Western Australia had varying success when measured by direct knockdown of cats and site occupancy as determined by camera trapping; however, native species appeared to respond favourably to integrated predator control. For the protection of native species, we recommend ongoing baiting for both foxes and feral cats, complemented by post-bait trapping of feral cats. We advocate monitoring baiting efficacy in a well designed adaptive management framework to deliver long-term recovery of threatened species that have been impacted by cats.